Poodle politics

9th March 2001 at 00:00
In uncompromising Texan talk, President Lyndon Johnson summed up his relations with FBI chief Edgar Hoover: "I'd much rather have that fellow inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in." Tony Blair may wonder whether the opposite is true as he thinks of his former chief inspector of schools. Chris Woodhead has joined the Daily Telegraph and no doubt fulfilled the hopes of his new employer when he started his series of columns with a broadside against both the Prime Minister and David Blunkett, the Education Secretary. The two had agreed with his concerns about the state of English school education but done nothing about them.

Although Mr Woodhead was a Conservative appointee he appeared to suit new Labour which had realised that the shortcomings of schools - an issue for "middle England" - required more than just the investment denied them by the Tories. Indeed, since Gordon Brown for the first two yers kept spending under the firmest of control, only attacks on standards (and directly or indirectly on teachers) could allow the new Government to appear to be tackling education head on. Given the imprimatur of the chief inspector's criticisms, ministers could launch their campaigns for improvement - or at least to talk about them, which, in Mr Woodhead's complaint, was the substitute for action.

But Mr Woodhead was an ineffective stalking-horse anyway. He antagonised the profession he sought to galvanise. Ministers, while trying to convince teachers that better times were on the way, had to defend their professional adviser. It will be much easier for Labour spin-doctors to deride Woodhead the columnist as the Conservative he always was, another of Mr Hague's little helpers. In Scotland we can savour the vitriol but also learn the lesson that teachers can never be bullied into raising their game.

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